Monday, January 24, 2011

An Open Letter to My Youngest Son

Dear Youngest Son,

It's hard to believe that two weeks have passed since your barmitzvah.  The buildup is so huge and so extended .. and then suddenly it's over.  What will never come to an end, however, is the pride we took in the way you rose to the occasion.  You didn't stop at the usual maftir and haftorah, but carried on to conduct most of the rest of the service too.  I know I'm biased, but I'm not the only person to say you were both word and note perfect. In fact you were awesome, utterly awesome.

Of course you didn't have to contend with sickness, like your big brother had to when it came to his barmitzvah.  As he said in his speech, he gave you an i-pod - you gave him measles.  But in spite of that, I know he was also bursting with pride at your achievements.

The party at your school went really well too, once again thanks to those wonderful friends who worked flat out with us to set up the atrium and put the finishing touches to the food in between the synagogue service and the evening.  The temperature was Arctic, but the warmth emanating from the love around us was positively tropical.  And once we started dancing, things certainly heated up.

Above all, it was a child-centred party, and that's just as it should be.

But how amazing that your grandpa was there, eh?  He was 80 when your brother was born and 82 when you came along.  I remember once, when you were toddlers, I saw him looking at you both with a wistful expression.

'Shame I won't get to see how these two turn out,' he said.

But there he was, aged 96 and still the baby in his family, as he has an older brother still toddling on.  And as I said at the time, I reckon you've both turned out pretty well and I know my dad wholeheartedly agrees with me on that score.

We have so much to be grateful for and you and your brother are without doubt the greatest of our blessings.  I'm sorry we have so few photos of the party due to our camera choosing that moment to give up the ghost.  Luckily, the divine Ms Lemon took a few pix that we can share with others to give a small flavour of the event.

And that's it.  We've used up the leftovers.  (My mum always said that if everything went, you hadn't made enough.)  I can put the files away, mothball the documents and spreadsheets and move onto being the mother of two adults (in Jewish terms only - don't go getting any ideas).  It's possible I may never again have to cater a party for 180 people 'all by my very own self', as you used to say.

Except we now have to work through a vast 'thankyou' list ... But we certainly can't complain about that and I know how grateful you are to everyone.

It ain't over until the fat lady sings.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Countdown to York Festival of Writing

Only a couple of months to go to the next Festival of Writing in York and things are hotting up.  Some of the biggest names in the business will be there: authors, agents and publishers.  I can't wait to meet people like Nicola Morgan, whom I know online but have yet to meet in Real Life.

Click here to see the full programme.
Details of the Friday mini-courses are here.  (I'm running one with Emma Darwin on Finding Your Voice.)
The workshop schedule is here. (I have a slot on Saturday on Breaking the 'Rules'.)
Included in the fee is the opportunity to pitch your book directly to agents or have it diagnosed and treated in one-to-one Book Doctor sessions.  See here. (I have 2 sessions on the Saturday (though one is now fully booked) and 3 on Sunday.)

On the Saturday evening there will be a gala dinner and another Authonomy Live event. Remember last year when Shelley Harris won?  You can see Shelley's own account of how the Festival changed her life here.

The last Festival was so amazing, I thought it would be tough to come up with another winner, but this one is shaping up to be even better.  I'm looking forward to renewing connections with people that I suspect are going to become regular attendees, as well as making new ones, all in the fabulous setting of York University.

Tickets are going fast but there are still some spaces left.  I know it's a lot of money for many people but I can promise it will be worthwhile.  You'll have a wonderful time, meet some inspiring people, get some incredibly useful personal feedback, learn new skills ... and ...
Who knows?  You could be this year's Shelley.

Raid the piggy bank; beg, steal or borrow; do whatever it takes but, if you possibly can, get yourself along here and start the booking process.

Look forward to seeing you!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Thickest Skin?

There are two things that are essential to achieve success as an author:

1)  write a stonking good book
2)  submit, submit and submit again.  And again if necessary.  And ...

The thing is, if number 1 is in place, you owe it to yourself not to give up too easily if the rejection letters flood in, no matter how much it hurts each time one thuds onto your doormat.  You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and pitch to the next person on your list.  (After maybe eating several bars of chocolate and/or punching a pillow and/or downing a few gins.)

But how many rejections would it take before you gave up on a particular book?
10?  20?  50?

Until recently, I was telling authors whose books I was convinced were publishable not to give up until they had received 60 rejections. 

But have you heard about Jason Wallace?  He has just been named the winner of the Costa Children's Book Award for his book set in Zimbabwe, Out of Shadows.  

The judges said:

'For us, this extraordinary debut novel was a unanimous winner. This compelling portrayal of a nation in crisis gripped us from start to finish and has stayed with us since  ...  A stunning debut novel without a false note.  Accomplished and powerful, it changes the way you think.
 But - and here's the rub -

- Jason was turned down by 100 (yes, you read that right, one zero zero) agents and publishers before being picked up by Andersen Press.

He is quoted in today's Independent as saying,

'I think I may have had a few low points when trying to get the book noticed, but in truth I don't think I would ever have given in.'

A few low points? A few low points???  How many people would hang on for that long, keeping the faith, rejection after rejection?  Well, Jason did and just look at what happened to him ...

So what are you waiting for?  Armour plate your heart and get that MS out there.

(NB: If the rejection slips do begin to pile up, you will probably need an objective assessment before you can be completely certain that the 'stonking' aspect is fully in place.)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Dear ... me ...

So you've written a novel.  You're convinced it's a masterpiece; quite possibly the best thing ever written.  And who knows?  You could be right ...

You're not worried about your covering letter, or the presentation of your manuscript.  After all, the sheer brilliance of your prose and stunning nature of your story will surely shine through.  I mean, you know enough not to have submitted the MS hand-written on the inside of a cereal packet, so what more do they want?

Well, stop right there.  If you haven't bothered to do your research as well as proof read your covering letter, why should an agent bother to give you their full attention?  On the assumption that the book itself is going to be polished and professional?   The letter is the first thing they see and first impressions count, right? 

Y'see, you not only have to give an agent compelling reasons to take you on, you also need to make sure you haven't given them any reasons not to ... like being sloppy with your pitch, for example.

Literary agent, Andrew Lownie, has posted a selection of opening lines in letters he has received over the last few months on his website.  Thing is, the authors may well be the next (insert name of your favourite author) but we'll probably never know, simply because no agent took them seriously enough to find out.  (My personal fave is, 'Bear Andrew'.)

There's no point in coming over all sullen and saying this is petty stuff and your naked talent should be enough to guarantee succeess... and if it doesn't it's cos there's something wrong with the industry ... damn philistines and bean counters ... yada yada yada ... 

Look, it's just common sense.  

Say you're going on a hot date.  You're convinced your sparkling wit and humour cannot fail to bowl over the soon-to-be significant other.  You're a fantastic catch, of course you are.  Except if you don't bother to blow your nose and make sure your clothes are clean and your breath doesn't stink like mouldy kippers, is it likely they will stick around to find out if the other stuff is in place?

Anyway, I'll leave you with that thought.  Less than a week to go to Youngest Son's bar mitzvah and it's all systems go.  See you on the other side.